Regulation of VoIP Services: Access to the Emergency Services
- Start: 26 July 2007
- Status: Statement published
- End: 20 September 2007
We (Ofcom) are the independent regulator of television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services in the UK. This consultation document sets out our proposed approach to regulating types of Voice over Internet Protocol services (VoIP services) that allow users to call ordinary fixed or mobile phone numbers. Our policy objective is to make sure consumers and other citizens are able to use them to contact the emergency services and that a high level of emergency services access is maintained for society as a whole.
This consultation will be relevant to all providers of VoIP services, but especially providers of VoIP services that allow calls out to ordinary fixed or mobile phones. It will be of interest to companies that provide public voice services using other technology. It is not aimed at operators using next-generation networks (NGNs), although some issues may be relevant. It will be relevant to the emergency services, consumers of voice services and other citizens.
VoIP services enable voice, data and multimedia services to be provided over a broadband Internet connection. This study focuses on the provision of voice call services, which is the feature common to all types of VoIP services.
There are four main types of VoIP voice call service: peer-to-peer services to make and receive voice calls over the Internet only, usually within the same application community; VoIP Out services to make voice calls over the Internet to the PSTN (Public Switched Telephony Network, the standard public phone network), but not to receive calls from the PSTN; VoIP In services to receive voice calls over the Internet from the PSTN, but not to make calls to the PSTN. Customers can be allocated an ordinary geographic number or a VoIP number (056); and VoIP In and Out services to receive voice calls over the Internet from the PSTN and to make voice calls over the Internet to the PSTN. Customers can be allocated an ordinary geographic number or a VoIP number (056).
This study considers the impact on VoIP providers of providing access to emergency services. Some providers surveyed provide VoIP and broadband (referred to as on-net VoIP providers), others offer a VoIP service only (referred to as Internet-based VoIP providers) and others are wholesale VoIP providers. For those that do not currently provide access to emergency services, there is implied cost in enabling and properly administering emergency service access, as well as extra cost in call delivery. However, it is not simply the cost of calls and of the infrastructure necessary to make 999 calls that is relevant.
One of the features of current European legislation means that if a VoIP service is available to the public, allows calls to and from ordinary national and international phone numbers, and provides emergency service access then it is likely to be considered a Publicly Available Telephone Service (PATS). PATS are subject to additional regulations (defined in terms of a set of general conditions) that place certain obligations on providers (e.g. a certain level of network integrity). This study also considers the consequential impact on VoIP providers of having to meet the general conditions for PATS.
Emergency service access and the impact of compliance with General Conditions on VoIP providers - annex